17 Jan 2016

New tools help Oakland crack down on illegal dumping


Lee Johnson hauls a shopping cart loaded with recyclable items on Union Street in Oakland, Calif., on Friday, Jan. 8, 2016. (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group) ( RAY CHAVEZ )

OAKLAND -- A pile of junk dumped in October outside Dorothy Lenehan's West Oakland business could be called a textbook case of a problem residents and city leaders say has long plagued Oakland's flatlands.

A man in a red station wagon pulled up in front of her Magnolia Street business on the afternoon of Oct. 23, unloaded items and drove away. Slowly, the trash, too, went away.

A junk hauler took the bookshelf. The next day, a man took a big garbage bag, leaving its contents. Then a man carrying a bag of cans and bottles sat on the chair missing its back and decided it was good enough for him to use.

That's one way trash has shuffled around Oakland, except for one thing: In this case, the life span of the trash, from dumping to scavenging to the car's license plate, was captured on high-definition video from surveillance cameras, and, within an hour, the video was uploaded to a new city mobile application, and an investigation was underway.

"I've watched this problem grow," Lenehan, who used to operate on Mandela Parkway, said last week. "Nowadays people have to report it themselves. It's easy to do."

Over the past two years, the city of Oakland has introduced incentives and tools for residents to report illegal dumping and stiff fines for those caught in the act.

By city estimates, half of the trash piles illegally dumped are by people living outside of Oakland. In 2013, the city's Public Works Agency and City Attorney's Office introduced the Illegal Dumping Enforcement Action initiative to crack down on blight. The City Council endorsed the idea later that year, passing a law criminalizing the illegal dumping of furniture, construction material, mattresses and other large amounts of trash.

So far, the city has given out 186 citations and 375 warning letters and has collected $55,807 of the $548,006 in fines issued, according to City Attorney Barbara Parker's office. Under the initiative, those caught have also put in 136 hours of community service picking up trash.

"Oakland is a proud, beautiful city, and we aren't going to tolerate this," Parker said Friday. "We want you to be on notice if you are going to dump in our city."

Reports pour in daily from people from the eastern to western to northern parts of the city. It can be as easy as taking a picture of blight, uploading the images to the city's SeeClickFix application and waiting for Public Works to have the trash removed. Successful cases have included pictures of license plates and the suspected dumpers.

It also can pay to submit such reports. Nine people have received rewards under a city program that began in early 2015, which has given out a total of $5,966, according to the City Attorney's Office.

City data show that much of the trash piles around multiunit buildings, where residents often come and go or have faced eviction. Each apartment building in Oakland is offered a certain number of large pickups a year, free of charge by the city's trash hauler, Waste Management, according to Waste Management spokesman Paul Rosynsky. Four times a year the trash company also holds a free drop-off event at its Davis Street Transfer Station in San Leandro, according to Rosynsky.

Lenehan, the business owner on Magnolia Street, said she's reported dumping on her property as recently as Jan. 2 and successfully reported a case against a moving company whose employees, she said, were fired as a result and had to perform community service as part of their punishment. In the October case, she helped the city identify the man who apparently left the bookshelf and other items -- a former local pastor who now is under investigation by the City Administrator's Office.

"I gave him a chance to clean it up," she said. "I had a lot of advice from others that it's not worth it to publicly shame him, but I changed my mind.

How to legally dispose of bulky items

Oakland's trash collection company, Waste Management, offers free curbside bulky pickup for both single-family and multifamily properties. Owners of single-family homes can call 510-613-8710 to schedule an annual free bulky pickup. Residents living in multifamily properties should contact their landlord or property owner

Source -http://www.mercurynews.com/ci_29391566/new-tools-help-oakland-crack-down-illegal-dumping

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